As it turns out, it’s not the end of the world as we know it.
However, Family Radio International preacher Harold Camping, who predicted 200 million Christians would be taken to heaven a week ago Saturday before global cataclysm struck the planet, has a backup date.
It’s Oct. 21, 2011.
But proclamations such as Camping made hurt any outreach to nonbelievers in the Christian faith, say area ministers.
“People don’t take the church seriously,” said the Rev. Keith Jones, pastor of New Hope Presbyterian Church, “when the very message we are trying to communicate to the world is how important Jesus Christ is.
“People wonder why Christians invest their time and money in proclaiming the rapture rather than focusing on serving the world with love, here and now,” he said.
Raleigh Wooten, minister of Ware Branch Church of Christ, delivered the sermon “The Day After?” to his Birchwood Pike congregation a week ago. He said Camping’s prediction makes people think Christians can’t get their stories straight.
“It makes people wonder if there’s anything to Christianity and reject all of it,” he said.
Gary Armes, pastor of Hickory Valley Christian Church, said he has read various Internet commentary on Camping’s predictions. On one site, he said, there were more than 4,000 comments.
“I didn’t read all of them,” he said, “but the overwhelming majority carried a very negative slant. People referred to him as an idiot, charlatan and other choice names. Personally, I would hope that unchurched people would not paint the rest of us with the same brush.”
Bill Greer, minister of Soddy Church of Christ, said the failure of such a prediction should strengthen the faith of Christians. In last week’s sermon, titled “Today Is May 22, 2011, and We’re Still Here,” he cited five instances in the books of Matthew and Mark in which Christ said no one will know the day and the hour of his return.
“What the word of God has said is accurate,” he said. “We don’t add to it or take from it. We say this should give us more faith, [provide the knowledge we can] depend on his word.”
Armes said most believers see the predictions for what they are: a human’s idea and not the truth of God. “There are a lot of mature believers out there who can discern a phony or misguided spiritual leader and deal with these predictions in a rational way,” he said.
But some people, Wooten said, buy in to prophecies so far as to sell their worldly possessions and wait for the end.
“That’s regrettable,” he said.
Fortunately, Wooten said, many Christians are already familiar with Matthew 24:36, where Christ said, “But of that day and hour no one knows, no, not even the angels of heaven, but my father only.”
Many churches don’t spend a lot of time on apocalyptic thinking, according to Jones.
“I don’t think that most of the church is very focused on the rapture,” he said. “We trust that God is in control, and we live every day under Christ’s Lordship, practicing resurrection, as some have said. We can’t control or predict when Christ will come again. We can just be sure that when Christ does, we can look back at our lives and know that we have done everything we can to serve Christ in our lives.”
Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...